About The Book

Diction in Context is a unique and highly practical textbook for singers learning to sing in English, Italian, German, and French. Each chapter is designed for use in diction courses in academic music and voice programs, helping students learn through pronunciation, articulation, enunciation, punctuation, and cultural context in each language.

Students and teachers of singing will benefit from the text’s pertinent biographical, historical and literary sources along with diction rules and textual examples of English, Italian, German and French song. For each language, there is a section on sentence structure and syntax intended to assist readers with poetic analysis and word-by-word translations. Representative song texts are provided for the purpose of comparative listening and phonetic transcription. Comparative listening reveals subtle differences in expression and diction. In addition, the texts are presented in a workbook format, allowing space for IPA dictation practice.

Diction in Context provides singers with the tools needed to delve deeply into the poetry and music they sing, to pronounce text accurately and to feel confident in expressing it. By combining English, Italian, German, and French into one easy-to-use textbook, students will benefit from a comparative perspective of singing in each language.

Key Features:

  • Repertoire lists are provided for each language and are designed to be used for class presentations and assessments
  • Discussion questions to challenge reader comprehension of key concepts and songs
  • Word-by-word translations to accompany foreign language texts
  • An end-of-book glossary featuring definitions of terms in the text as well as terminology encountered in related literature
  • Three practical appendices, including:

o   Practice drills, quizzes, and assessment forms

o   A list of additional resources for diction learning

About The Author

Brenda Smith, DMA, a lyric soprano, teaches studio voice, singer’s diction, and vocal pedagogy at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She is widely recognized for her contributions to the concept of lifelong singing through proper voice care. Brenda Smith’s most recent publication is Diction in Context: Singing in English, Italian, German, and French. She is the author of So You Want to Sing for a Lifetime: A Guide to Performer, a publication sponsored by the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Dr. Smith and Dr. Robert T. Sataloff have collaborated on a variety of projects to promote vocal health through choral singing. They are the co-authors of two textbooks, Choral Pedagogy, Third Edition and Choral Pedagogy and the Older Singer that unite voice science, vocal pedagogy with choral conducting. Brenda Smith serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Voice and is a Consulting Editor for Plural Publishing. In recognition of demonstrated excellence in teaching and her interest in voice science, Dr. Smith received the Van Lawrence Fellowship in 2000, presented by The Voice Foundation and the NATS. Before joining the University of Florida faculty, she taught at Westminster Choir College, Dickinson College, and Rowan University.

Table Of Contents


A Message to Students

A Message to Teachers



Chapter 1. Gathering the Tools      







            Cultural Context

The Anatomy of Diction

The Mechanics of Diction

            Classification of Vowels

            Classification of Consonants

Diction and Vocal Health

            The Rainbow Passage

Interpretation: Where to Begin

            What Do Singers Sing About?

            Where Were Songs Sung and Why?

            Why Do We Sing as We Do?

            How is Love Expressed in English?

            What is the Italian View of Love?

            How do Germans Interpret the Concept of Love?

            Do the French Have Different Views of Love?

            Love and the Seasons

            Singer’s Diction: Poetry in Song

            Discussion Questions

Orpheus and His Lyre

Can Poetry Be Defined?

            What is Poetry?

            Who Writes Poetry, When, and Why?

            How Should Poetry Be Read?

            How Does a Singer Approach a Poem Set to Music?

            Why Is Close Reading Important for Singing and Diction?

            Discussion Questions

 International Phonetic Alphabet: History and Use

            Rules of the Road

Essential Vocabulary

Additional Tools

            Terms from Greek Mythology and Roman Legend

            Literary Symbols

Translations – Literal, “Singable,” and Poetic




            Expressivity of Vowels and Consonants

            Literal or “Word-by-Word” Translations

            Singable Translations

            Poetic Translations/Equivalent



Chapter 2. English

The Sounds of English

Singing in English: Why is English Such a Challenge?

Singing in English: How is Singing English different than Speaking English?

The Sounds of English

            English Vowel Sounds: The Cornerstones of Singer’s Diction

            English Consonants

Study Guide: English Consonant Sounds

Practicing Vowel Sounds in English

The Parts of Speech and Elements of Syntax in English

            Component Parts of English Sentences

William Shakespeare: The Place to Start in English

Early English Song

            Lute Songs and Their Lyrics Defined

            Discussion Questions

Diction in Context: Comparative Listening Exercises

English Ayres

            John Dowland (1563-1626)

            Philip Rosseter (1568-1623)

            Thomas Morley (1557-1602)

Early Opera, Oratorio and Airs

            Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

            George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

            Thomas Arne (1710-1778)
George Munro (1685-1731)

English Diction First Presentation

            Repertoire Suggestions

            Duet Settings

Poetry and Song in 19th and 20th Century England

            William Blake (1757-1823) Poet, Painter and Printmaker

            The Brownings: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) and Robert Browning (1812-1889

            The Rossettis: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

            Ivor Gurney (1890-1937): Poet and Composer

            A. E. Housman (1859-1936): Poet Whose Words Sparked British and American Song

The 19th and 20th Century American Song

The American Approach to Poetic Thought

            Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

            James Joyce (1882-1941) and James Stephens (1880-1950)

            Discussion Questions

English Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List



Chapter 3. Italian

The Sounds of Italian

            Italian Vowels

            Italian Consonants

Diction in Context: Italian Vowels

            The Letters “e” and “o”

Diction in Context: Consonants

            More About the Letters “c,” “g,” and “sc”
Double Consonants and Consonant Clusters

            Single and Double Consonant Practice

Parts of Speech and Elements of Grammar

            Elements of Sentences

            Discussion Questions

Italian Language and Thought

            Dante and Petrarch

            Petrarch and Laura

Early Italian Song

            Giulio Caccini (1546-1618

            Marco Antonio (Pietro) Cesti (1620-1669)

            Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)

            Alessandro Parisotti (1853-1913)

            Stefano Donaudy (1879-1925)

            Discussion Questions

Italian Diction First Presentation Repertoire List

Italian Vocal Music in the Nineteenth Century

            Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868)

            Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)

            Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)

            Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Italian Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List



Chapter 4. German

The Sounds of German

            Single Vowels or Monophthongs



            Fricative Consonants

            Affricative Consonants

            Lateral Consonant

            Unvoiced Stop Plosive Consonants

            Onset of Open Vowels

Parts of Speech and Elements of Grammar

            Elements of Sentences

Goethe and Romanticism

            Discussion Questions

The Poets

            Heinrich Heine (1797-1856): Lyric Poet

            Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866)

            Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

            Eduard Mörike (1804-1875)

The Composers

            Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1846) and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)

            Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)

            Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

German Diction First Presentation Repertoire List

Later 19th Century German Lied

            Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)and Eduard Mörike (1804-1875)

            Hugo Wolf and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

            Hugo Wolf and Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

            Hugo Wolf and Italienisches Liederbuch

            Hugo Wolf and Spanisches Liederbuch

            Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

            Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

German Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List



Chapter 5. French

The Sounds of French

            Mute “e”:  [ə] or [œ]


            Mixed Vowels

            Nasal Vowels

            Diacritical Marks

            French Consonants

Parts of Speech and Elements of Grammar

            Elements of Sentences

The Early French Art Song

            Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

            Cesar Franck (1822-1890)

            Charles Gounod (1818-1893)

Composers of the French Mélodie

            Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

            Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Who Wrote the Poems that Inspired French Mélodie?

            Paul Verlaine (1844-1916)

            Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

            Charles Baudelaire (1811-1867)

            Theophile Gautier (1811-1872)

            Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

            Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)

            Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)

            Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947)

            Discussion Questions

The French mélodies of Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, and Erik Satie

            Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

            Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

            Erik Satie (1866-1925)

French Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List



Concluding Thoughts


Appendix A. Practice Drills, Quizzes, Assessment Forms

Appendix B. Index of Works Cited

Appendix C. Resources for Diction Learning



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